(Update: Adds response from the U.S. ambassador to the CD)
(CNSNews.com) – The Assad regime is set to assume the chair of a United Nations forum whose agenda includes an end to weapons of mass destruction, at a time when it is accused of using them against civilians in Syria.
The “Syrian Arab Republic” is scheduled to chair a four-week segment of the Conference on Disarmament’s 2018 session in Geneva, from May 28 to June 24.
The CD is the forum which in 1992 drafted the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention – the international treaty which the U.S. and allies accuse the Assad regime of violating a number of times during the ongoing civil war, most recently last weekend.
“Syria has neither the international credibility nor the moral authority to assume it’s presidency,” the U.S. Ambassador to the CD, Robert Wood, said in response to queries.
“We are examining how we will deal with the issue of Syria’s presidency.”
Although the handing over of the gavel at the CD is a routine matter – the chair rotates alphabetically among the body’s 65 member-states – the notion of the Assad regime presiding over a body dedicated to WMD disarmament has prompted calls for Western democracies to boycott the session.
“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” said United Nations Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, whose non-governmental organization is leading calls for a stayaway.
“The Assad regime’s documented use of chemical weapons remains the most serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention in the treaty’s twenty-year history,” Neuer said.
“We urge the U.N. to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity,” said Neuer.
He urged the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and others not to send ambassadors to any CD session chaired by the Assad regime.
Despite the routine nature of the chair rotation, there are precedents for boycotts. In 2013, the Obama administration refused to send its ambassador to a CD session chaired by Iran.
“While the presidency of the CD is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities, allowing Iran – a country that is in flagrant violation of its obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and to the IAEA board of governors – to hold such a position runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself,” , the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said at the time.
“As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran.”
Two years earlier, North Korea assumed the chair of the CD. Canada boycotted the session, although on that occasion the Obama administration did not.
Then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at the time the U.S. had “chosen not to make a big deal out of this because it’s a relatively low-level, inconsequential event.”
Neuer argued against playing down the significance of the Assad regime presiding over the session, saying it would likely – as it has done in the past after assuming other U.N. leadership positions – use it for propaganda purposes, “to legitimize Assad’s cruel regime.”
“The Assad regime simply cannot be a credible chair of this or any other United Nations body. Syria’s use of deadly chemical weapons and its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons, in breach of its disarmament obligations, run counter to the objectives and fundamental principles of the Conference on Disarmament itself,” he said.
“Syria’s chairmanship will only undermine the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and no country should support that.”
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador Wood condemned the Assad regime over the latest suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.
“Another horrific CW attack in Douma, Syria, perpetrated by Assad against his own people,” he tweeted.
“Russia must stop defending this criminal regime & join the rest of the int. community in strongly condemning the use of CW by Assad. On this issue, Russia is on the wrong side of history.”
The CD is the U.N.’s multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, established in 1979. Based in Geneva, its agenda includes weapons of mass destruction, reduction of armed forces and budgets, and the goal of eventual complete disarmament.
American taxpayers account for more than one-fifth of the U.N.’s operating budget.